The History of Email (or What's Wrong with my Emails)

When there are problems with getting people set up and running with a new web server the biggest problem I encounter, and the one giving both me and clients the biggest problems is in setting up emails.

Of course the question then exists; Whats wrong my emails?

To understand this I think it is important to understand the history of emails. I don't want to give you a long dissertation of that here - there are several other excellent articles on the internet that you can find if you are interested - but the short version is interesting, and should be understood.

Emails started life before the original 'internet' was even invented. It was originally just a method of different users on a main comnputer leaving text messages directly in a folder in another users computer.

As computers begain to be interconnected (or 'networked') methods were worked out to send those messages to peoples mail folders on remote computers. In order to standardise how this was done protocols were established.  A protocol is just a set of rules so that things are consistent and computers can work together and understand each other.

One of the first to be widely used was called SMTP or Simple Message Transfer Protocol and another later was POP or Post Office Protocol.  These protocols established standards such as use of the @ symbol, and how messages should be formatted. Unfortunately these protocols did not feature any security. In fact they did not even take measures to ensure the email address that an email was signed with was actually from that person.

The methods that the information is displayed in your internet browser (such as Chrome or Firefox) has been developed considerably - stabdards are so good that you expect to see the same great content with graphics, video, text and animation in any computer pretty much the same.

Email has not develped to the same degree. Not at all.

In an effort to keep email as simple as possible - allowing as much traffic as possible - the standards have evolved to being able to use a simple form of HTML (the markup language used to write web pages).

The scarey truth is that not a lot has changed since the first versions of SMTP and POP. In fact - these are still the protocols we use today.

I am sure that I will be accused of over-simplifying the history here. And to be truthful there are some things I have left out ion order to bring home the mssage to you that while our expectation of the internet has grown incredibly high, email remains insecure, easily forged, prone to error, and quite often requires a degree in computer science to set up an email account in Outlook.

The unfortunate thing is that to fix it means dismanteling the entire system and starting again. Something that just would not happen.

So to make email workable we are left with a bunch of band aid solutions to make it work. For example we can send emails securely using a protocol that works like the HTTPS (thats the little green lock you see on many websites that lets you know its secure). This verifies the owner and encrypts the content, making it only available to the end user. (If this is not used you could 'hack' into any email relay server and read all the traffic going through it)

Gmail and Outlook mail have been developed that allow a secure and more robust system that is easier to set up. It still has to use the confines of the existing systems, but is easier and more secure. You can also use your own domain name as Gmail or Outlook mail.

Spam filters and virus scans work over time to get rid of known spam or malicious traffic. The filters along the line remove as much as 75% of the traffic addressed to you when it is flagged. This means that some legitimate traffic might not make it too you if it is accidentally flagged as spam.

So to answer the question, what is wrong with my emails?

Emaisl are built on (by computer standards) an ancient technology that could not have predicted the ubiquitous use of emails, or the abuse of the system. To handle this we have had to develop layers of security and other measures to combat and make workable emailing. This means that setting up your emails is not always simple. It means that you need not feel stupid if you need help to set them up. It means that sometimes you might not get that email your client said they sent you.

What are the solutions?

If you are usuing the typical email set up eith your hosting provider I recommend getting help with the set up.

If you are completely frustrated the smartest thing to do is get eith gmail or Outlook mail set up for your domain. You will pay for each mailbox you have, but you can be certain that it will work much better. Still not perfect, but better.

Email is a broken system, but it is still very much needed, so we should make the most of it.